What We’re Doing in 2016

Mike was the first person to notice them. Walking by the printer, he spied them fresh off the press.

“This year I will” he read … “Oh no, are these for us?”

They were indeed! Cute New Year’s resolution printables courtesy of Pinterest, one for each of us. Sigh.

“You’re going to make us do those, aren’t you?” Elena was the next to notice, after I’d cut them out nicely and arranged them on the kitchen counter. Sigh.

Eli lived in New Year’s resolution ignorant bliss, until I whipped them back out later that evening as we waited in a barbecue restaurant for our food to arrive. He stared at the blank page and grimaced, as if we’d told him we were all having the ribs and he could have some tofu. Sigh.

So maybe they don’t enjoy self-reflection as much as I do, but in an attempt to humor me they rallied and reflected. And I have to say, they all put great thought into their resolutions. I’m hit or miss when it comes to making big changes when the new year rolls around. For me, I feel more compelled to make changes when the school year starts. That feels like the beginning of a new year to me. Still, I thought it would be fun for us to try coming up with some resolutions together and to share some individual goals with each other. As an Obliger, I know how important it is to have outer accountability when it comes to meeting inner goals. I suspect I’m not the only Obliger in this little family. Here’s what the members of the Six family would like to accomplish in 2016:

This Year Angie Will:

Start a new habit: Aim to get 10,000 steps at least 5 days a week
Read a good book: Harry Potter (finally!)
Learn a new skill: Periscope
Go on a visit to: My niece’s house. We’re always talking about visiting, but are terrible at making it happen.
Break a bad habit: Failure to floss on a regular basis
Look forward to: Our trip to California
Try something new: Cooking ahead and doing meal prep at the beginning of the week

This Year Mike Will:

Start a new habit: Walk Gus more often
Read a good book: Finish the Harry Potter series with Eli
Learn a new skill: Household DIY projects
Go on a visit to: Hocking Hills, Ohio (Our friends went last fall and it looks like a fun and quick family getaway)
Break a bad habit: Skipping family meetings (we’re all guilty)
Look forward to: Going to see Twenty One Pilots as a family (we have 4 tickets to the Indy show this summer)
Try something new: New food (It’s going swimmingly so far, can’t you tell based on Mike’s helpful editorial comments on my suggestions?)

Getting to Yum seasonal new food suggestions for winter

This Year Elena Will:

Start a new habit: Draw every day
Read a good book: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Learn a new skill: Something art related
Go on a visit to: California
Break a bad habit: Going to Taco Bell (cut down to no more than twice a week)
Look forward to: Hopefully going to a Ryan Ross concert
Try something new: Skydiving (!)

This Year Eli Will:

Start a new habit: Brush teeth in the morning without being asked
Read a good book: Finish Harry Potter with Dad
Learn a new skill: BMX tricks
Go on a visit to: California
Break a bad habit: Leaving lights on (praise Jesus if just one kid could figure this out)
Look forward to: His first concert (Twenty One Pilots in July)
Try something new: The ukulele

This Year Gus Will:

Start a new habit: Letting my owners clip my nails without freaking the freak out
Read a good book: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training
Learn a new skill: Wipe his own muddy paws before coming in
Go on a visit to: Barkefellers without getting kicked out for “aggressive mounting”
Break a bad habit: Chewing the most expensive socks we own while overlooking the cheapo Target ones
Look forward to: Finally catching those squirrels
Try something new: Watching the nice old lady walk in our cul-de-sac instead of barking as if she’s an ax-murderer

Just kidding, Gus can’t write … yet.

We also came up with a few family resolutions. We’d like to start having family meetings again once a week. We fell out of the habit over the summer, but have missed that valuable connection and opportunity for communication. We want to work on a big jigsaw puzzle – the kind you get started on a table and leave out for people to work on as they please until it’s finished. And finally, we have a goal to play each and every game we own. We’ve amassed quite a collection, some of which the kids have either outgrown or that we don’t enjoy as much as we thought we would. We’re on a game buying hiatus until we complete this fun task.

Did you or your family make New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, do you talk about them together or keep them private? I promise to report back at the end of the year and let you know how we did with ours!


The Gift of Travel: Choosing Experiences Over Gifts

We’re a little over two weeks past Christmas and I’m wondering … now that the tinsel has settled and stockings are put away, how was your Christmas? More specifically, how many of the things that were purchased for the purpose of gift-giving are still giving pleasure, usefulness or entertainment?

The Christmas aftermath

That’s something that, as parents, Mike and I have struggled with over the last couple of years. We’ve never been big buyers, and we don’t have an extended family dynamic that encourages excessive gifting, and still we find ourselves in mid-January wondering how it all added up. Despite our valiant efforts to be mindful in our holiday shopping, it still seems like too much. It still feels as if some of the purchases were duds, left to collect dust or take up space until they move on to Goodwill or a garage sale.

This past Christmas we decided to go in a different direction: we would not be filling the space under the tree with gifts. In our family tradition, Santa delivers a special gift and fills the stockings. All the other presents come from Mom and Dad. Some years we tried the “Something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read” tradition. Other years we tried to stick to a strict budget. As we’d reflect on Christmas weeks or months later, we always noticed the same thing. One or two gifts held their power as something beloved or useful, and the other gifts just drifted into the background with all the other stuff you accumulate but don’t love. Beyond the time and energy (neither of which are in full supply during the holidays) shopping for these gifts took, it just felt wasteful. And not good.

Inspired by Amy Clark of MomAdvice and her “Choose Your Own Adventure” travel package she and her husband put together for her kids last year, we decided that in lieu of gifts we’d put that money towards travel – and let Elena and Eli pick the trip. We sat down with them over Thanksgiving to let them know that there wouldn’t be the traditional pile of gifts under the tree this year. Santa would still visit, but Mom and Dad were planning a fun family gift instead. We left it at that and they seemed content.

In the meantime, Mike and I narrowed the myriad of possibilities to three different types of trips: New York City, Southern California, and a Caribbean Escape. Using Canva and PicMonkey, I created a “travel brochure” to present to the kids on Christmas morning. Inside a binder they found the ground rules (they had to come to an agreement on the trip together – NICELY, travel arrangements would be made once a destination was decided, specific trip excursions may be modified as plans were solidified, etc.) along with a description of each trip and the kinds of things we might do and see.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Binder Christmas Gift

I have to say, it seemed to go over very well. They read over all the trip details with great interest and took their time deciding. We had several discussions about the pros and cons of the different destinations. They quickly eliminated New York City from the running, but took two days to decide between California and the Caribbean. It was so interesting to observe them listening to and negotiating with each other (Elena was leaning toward California and Eli was keen on the Caribbean). For the most part, Mike and I stayed out of it, other than to offer some additional information we thought might help them make a decision. This was their gift, their trip, and we wanted them to have the final say. In the end, they agreed on Southern California.

We’re so excited to begin planning our trip! We think we’ll spend about a week there, concentrating on the Los Angeles/San Diego area. For those of you that have been, we’d love your advice and suggestions! There’s so much to decide. When is the best time to go? Do we visit Disneyland even if we’ve been to Disney World twice? Where should we stay? But this is just one of the many things I love about gifting travel over material things: beyond the time we spend together as a family on the actual trip, we’re spending lots of time together working through the planning process. It really is the gift that will keep on giving, long after the trip is over.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Binder Christmas Gift

I really hope this is a tradition we can continue. It blows my mind that Elena will be in high school this fall, and that we really only have four more years to easily travel as a family. I want to take advantage of this time as much as possible, and see the world with the people I love the most.


Our Favorite Kids and Young Adult Books of 2015

As we wrap up 2015 and I look back at the many books I read, I thought I would share my favorites by category instead of one big list. Today I’m sharing with you my favorite reads (along with a few of Elena and Eli’s picks) in Kids and Young Adult books this year. (Note: these are books we read in 2015, but not necessarily published in 2015.) Enjoy!

Best Kids Books

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, The One and Only Ivan tells the story of Ivan, a mighty silverback gorilla who has spent nearly his entire life behind the glass in a shopping mall zoo. Captured as an infant, he spent his early years living with a family until he got to be too much to handle. Based on a true story, Applegate weaves a tale of hope and heartbreak. Ivan may not have any other primates to keep him company, but he bonds with Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. He is content with all he’s really ever known, until Ruby arrives. A baby elephant taken from the wild, Ruby forces Ivan to look at his surroundings in a new light. Are they destined to spend the rest of their days in the run-down mall? Or can Ivan protect them from a bleak future and save them all? Applegate’s writing is like poetry, and you’ll be hard-pressed to read it without shedding a tear. If your kids enjoy this book, be sure to check out Applegate’s picture book, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla as well.

Race the Wild Series by Kristin Earhart

I knew nothing about these books until a few weeks ago. Eli and I were shopping for his Hope 4 the Holidays buddy, who requested books. As they’re the same age and about the same reading level, we hopped on Amazon to buy a few books Eli likes. While we were browsing the best books of 2015, Eli saw this series. “Those are so good! I read them at school all the time.” When the books arrived, I spent a few minutes flipping through the first book in the series. I can see why they appeal to the middle grade reader. Think Magic Tree House meets action and adventure. The stories take readers on an adventurous ride through places like the rainforest, the savanna and the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the story, each book is creature facts, maps, and interesting tidbits about the locale.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales Books by Nathan Hale

Eli’s a big fan of graphic novels, and these Nathan Hale novels combine his love of the genre with topics that appeal to his love of adventure and danger. I love that the books tell the stories about historical events in a way that captures young readers’ attention. I really hope Hale expands on the series, but for now you can find books on World War I, the Underground Railroad, the Donner Party, the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.

Masterpiece by Elaine Broach

This delightful book was one I read aloud to Eli. Read-aloud books for the young elementary set require a few things to make them work: an interesting story that builds in excitement or suspense, smart and natural dialogue, and a few well-placed illustrations. Masterpiece has all of those things, and we both loved the story of Marvin, the beetle living under the sink in James’ New York City Apartment. James’ parents are divorced and he feels as if neither parent really gets him. Marvin has spent much time observing James, and has a fondness for the boy. When James’ artist dad gives him a pen and ink set for his birthday, Marvin can’t resist dabbling in it while James sleeps. The result will take James and Marvin deep into the world of art and stolen masterpieces. So fun, and we’re looking forward to reading more in Broach’s sequel, James to the Rescue .

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Back to the graphic novels! I saw this book mentioned in several different places as a good read, so I snatched it up when I spied it on our library’s new books shelf. I didn’t say anything about it to Eli, just set it on his nightstand. I worried a bit that he might dismiss the book just on the cover or the girl-centric topic. Instead, he’s been reading and re-reading it every evening since it came home. Further proof that a good story appeals to all genders and that you don’t need to base a book on zombies or bathroom humor to entice boys to read.

Best Young Adult Books

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This was my pick for “A Book I Chose Because of the Cover” in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge. I may have cheated a bit, as that’s the reason I chose the the first book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. Have a look, though – isn’t this cover just as cool and creepy? It had been a year since I’d read the first book, so it took me a few chapters to get the characters straight again. Once I did I was taken right back to where the Peculiar Children left off, and I was just as anxious about their quest to flee from the deadly hollowgast monsters and save their beloved Miss Peregine. The book is filled with even more fantastically creepy vintage photos the author found in flea markets and collections. The good news? The second book is just as wonderful as the first. The bad news? You’ll want to dive into the third novel right away if you can get your hands on it.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Like the main characters, Olly and Maddy, this book caught my attention just from the cover. The description had me hopeful, the first few pages had me smitten, and after the first illustration I was in love. Maddy suffers from a severely compromised immune system – so much so that she lives her life inside the bubble of her home. She never leaves, and it takes such a protocol for visitors to come in safely that they are few and far between. When she glimpses Olly moving in next door and he takes an interest in her, everything changes. The bubble is no longer protective – it’s suffocating. Nicola Yoon’s debut is fantastic, and she gives readers a heartfelt story about love, loneliness, and the lengths people will go to protect their hearts. There were a few details and story lines that were somewhat unbelievable, but the overall depth of the characters and the plot more than made up for those shortcomings. Elena read it as well and named it one of the best books she’s read this year. It was nominated for Goodreads “Best Books of 2015” for good reason.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Elena and I listened to this book together over the course of a few weeks and multiple trips back and forth to art lessons and summer camp. We both loved it, and the ending gutted both of us. Violet Markey is counting down the days until graduation. It’s everything she can do to get through the school year after a tragic accident claims her sister’s life while sparing her own. Theodore Finch is counting up, measuring each day he’s “awake” following a severe bout with depression as a major accomplishment. Their paths in school never cross, Violet being the pretty and popular one, Finch being the freak, until they meet in a precarious spot. Partnered together for a school project, they discover Indiana, and along the way discover in each other the only person they can be their real selves with. After reading Hoosier native Niven’s book, Elena and I are ready to wander the same quirky parts of Indiana as Violet and Finch.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Elena read this for a school project with a really cool assignment: create a playlist for your chosen book based on the different emotions the book evokes for you throughout its pages. According to Elena, Mosquitoland had lots of emotions. The main character, 16-year-old Mim “is not okay.” Her family has fallen apart, and after her parents divorce and her father remarries, she moves thousands of miles away from her mom and her childhood home. When her mother falls ill, Mim steals money, buys a bus ticket, and runs away from home to be with her. Along the way, Mim finds she can run away, but the demons of the past will always catch up with you until you face them head on.

What were your favorite books written for Children and Young Adults this year? Find inspiration for great kids and YA books throughout the year by following my Good Reads For Kids Pinterest Board.


The best young adult and kids books we read in 2015. Featuring 9 of our favorites including chapter books, read aloud books and graphic novels. YA Books | Childrens Books

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